elettaria: (Trans-friendly equal marriage symbol)
Twitter is currently ablaze about an outrageous article by Louise Mensch, in which she complains about "intersectional bollocks" derailing feminism. I have a few observations.

1. "Mensch" is literally Yiddish for "man". Metaphorically, it means "decent human being", as in, "He helped the family out enormously when Granny was ill. He's a real mensch." Let's all savour the irony there.

2. Intersectionality affects various aspects of being human, but in the context of certain women complaining that we shouldn't talk about intersectionality, that it shuts down debate (which is odd, because last I checked it was opening up debate), the issue they are most often talking about is racism. I've seen it occur with transmisogyny as well, and this article briefly lists "cis" under the umbrella of "intersectional bollocks" and then gets in another dig later on, but overall, this article is about racism. So let's tackle that. Transphobia, and particularly transmisogyny, is a big problem within the feminist movement, and one that deserves its own article.

It probably shouldn't surprise me, but I remain shocked at the number of people who are hearing about the current racist backlash following the Woolwich murder and complaining about how hard it is to be white. No, it isn't. About the worst that is likely to happen to you as a result of being white is that someone might tell you off on Twitter for making a racist, or at least inappropriate-due-to-white-privilege, comment, and they might not be grovellingly polite while doing so. Newsflash: being snapped at on Twitter is not a form of discrimination. It doesn't even begin to compare with being on the receiving end of structural racism, and the people you've offended are not under an obligation to act apologetically towards you. It is ordinary discourse, and it is not a big deal if someone tells you off now and again. The correct response is to apologise for whatever you did wrong, read up on the subject so that you don't screw up again, and under no circumstances to act as if you are the victim here.

The question of whether racism and sexism are connected seems so incredibly obvious that it shouldn't have to be explained, but sadly, not everyone sees it that way. I don't even know where to start with that one. Yes, of course they're bloody connected. There have been generations of women of colour explaining exactly how they are connected. Standing on the shoulders of giants gives you a starting place, and the whole website is worth a read. The crucial point here is that it's women of colour who are the ones experiencing both racism and sexism, and this makes them the authorities on the subject. I'm not saying that no one else is allowed to join in the discussion. Allies are valuable, and people need to speak out against bigotry coming from their own community. I'm saying that we should acknowledge where we fit into it, and if we're white, focus on listening to the ones who've lived this experience. Silencing them by telling them they are derailing feminism (the irony here is quite breathtaking) is absolutely NOT the way to respond.

3. "Intersectionality is divisive/doesn't affect most women/a waste of time". Intersectionality affects everyone. Yes, Louise Mensch, even you. If you're a white, cisgendered, straight, middle-class, well-educated, non-disabled woman, then that is still intersectional. You're just not noticing it because apart from being a woman, the other factors are positions of privilege. They still affect you, how you think, how you interact with other people, whom you choose to promote. Meanwhile, you should try recognising that this constellation of privilege actually makes you very lucky indeed. It doesn't apply to "most women". Most women are disadvantaged in more ways than one. We can't all be middle-class, for starters, and we can't all go to fancy schools. A sizable proportion of us are LGBT. A sizable proportion of us are disabled. Sex workers are subject to the most appalling discrimination. Race and ethnicity are massive factors. Frankly, even if only 2% of women were disadvantaged in ways other than sexism, that 2% would still count. The "but it's only a small proportion" argument is sometimes used to justify excluding trans women, and that kind of thinking is totally and absolutely wrong.

Intersectionality is a fact of life. And it's not really all that long a word. I've noticed that the only people who feel that "intersectionality" is a prohibitively long and scary word are middle-class radfems who are condescendingly explaining why we shouldn't use it, because it might scare off women who are working-class or poorly-educated. When women who are working-class, or who were not blessed with a protracted education, speak up and say, well, actually this concept matters to us very much indeed, they are waved aside. Yes, I personally know women who haven't heard of the term "intersectionality". In those cases, it only takes a moment to explain what the term means, and then we get onto a fruitful discussion of, say, how disabled women are treated differently from disabled men.

4. "A good education is well-deserved success, not privilege". Mensch's reasoning here appears to be that she was a scholarship girl and pulled herself up by her bootstraps, so everyone else should be able to do the same. I'm guessing she didn't win her scholarship by her mathematical skills. Scholarships are rare, that's the whole point. I'm trying to work out how many kids get a scholarship to a private school every year in the UK, and my guess would be a few hundred at most. They are not available to every talented youngster. My parents also sent me to a school they couldn't really afford, although in my case I won a bursary rather than a scholarship. It just meant that my parents were a little worse off than the average parent at that school. It didn't mean that they were truly poor, and they continued to pay for music lessons, uniforms, the coach to school and so forth all the way through my schooling. If they had divorced a few years earlier than they did, chances are I'd have been pulled out of my nice, cosy, pampered fee-paying school and sent to a local comprehensive. It's an unfair system, which only partly rewards intelligence and hard work. And quite frankly, people should be able to access basic human rights and be free from discrimination no matter what their level of intelligence, or how hard they do or do not work.

Of course it's a privilege to go to a high-status school. It's one based on your parents' wealth and social class. Even if you are lucky enough to have it, it doesn't guarantee an easy life. I went to one of the top schools in the country and was one of their top students. What exalted position am I in now? Stuck at home, unable to work or have children, reliant on state benefits and support from social services to survive, and feeling proud of myself because I can pay the phone bill. Disability can strike anyone at any time, and it makes an enormous difference in your life. Come to that, even short-term things can make an enormous difference. A bereavement or bad relationship break-up just before Finals can scupper a degree you spent four years studying towards, and I've known a few people this has happened to. I nearly missed my university place due to getting migraine during one of my A-level exams, and if you really want to hear about the unfairness of the exam system, try talking to a few people with dyslexia.

Mind you, Mensch seems to think that women don't count unless they manage to become extremely powerful and successful, and that women should only be measured by their accomplishments in fields such as running for political office. It's not just a shitty attitude towards the vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet, but rather sad, really. Life is about so much more.
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January 2014

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